ISPs urged to be honest about broadband speed

ISPs urged to be honest about broadband speed

Ofcom agrees to discuss a mandatory code of practice for providers

Broadband providers should adhere to a code of practice that allows customers to cancel their order if the line speed does not match up to its advertised bandwidth, according to an influential advisory group.

The Ofcom Consumer Panel has asked the communications regulator to produce a mandatory code of practice for ISPs to address consumer concerns over the difference between advertised line speeds and the service delivered.

The Panel is an independent body set to advise Ofcom on regulatory matters affecting consumers.

“We would like to see Ofcom leading discussions with industry to produce an enforceable code of practice that would be mandatory for ISPs,” said Colette Bowe, chairman of the Ofcom Consumer Panel.

“This code would establish agreed processes to give the customer the best information during and after the sales process, and to give them flexibility to move freely to different packages that reflect the actual speeds with which their ISPs are able to provide them.”

The panel has recommended that the code require ISPs to commit to business practices including:

  • Informing consumers, during the sales process, about the theoretical maximum line speed they could expect;
  • Providing clear information upfront about the factors that can affect line speed;
  • Contacting customers two weeks after installation to provide them with the actual line speed supported by their line;
  • If the actual line speed is significantly lower than the package they bought, consumers should have a penalty-free choice to move to a different package or, in certain circumstances, opt-out from their contract.

    Bowe said that the advertising of broadband packages also needs to be changed to reflect actual speeds.

    “I will be requesting that the Advertising Standards Authority, working with industry, considers how the range of factors affecting broadband speeds can be given much greater prominence in advertising material,” she said.

    “We believe that clearer information in advertising of broadband speeds and the associated packages would greatly increase customer satisfaction.”

    Since Bowe's letter was revealed this morning, it has emerged that Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards has already replied supporting the suggestions made by the consumer panel.

    "We have already started discussions with leading ISPs to see how meaningful information can be provided to consumers," wrote Richards.

    "We are keen that any measures are implemented in the shortest time frame possible. At this stage, we have not ruled out the possibility of using formal powers if we consider it would be more effective in delivering our objectives."

    Richards said that quality of service information would be very helpful for consumers.

    "We have already initiated a project that will identify the most useful indicators to consumers and establish the best possible method of providing this information to consumers," he wrote.

    A survey in September revealed that more than half of broadband subscribers regularly receive less than half the bandwidth advertised by their ISP.

    Actual line speed on a broadband connection varies according to a number of factors, such as the distance of the household from the local exchange and the quality of the line.